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He woke up at 330 am to get ready for another day. By 430 am, he was out of his house in a God-forsaken part of Mowe to navigate his way onto the main road that will take him to his workplace in Apapa.
There were few vehicles on that inner road in the wee hours of the day. Nevertheless, what should ordinarily be a 15-minute drive from his house to the main road would take the better part of 45 minutes.
Years of government (both state and local) neglect have given birth to treacherous inner roads, worse than the terrain off-road vehicle manufacturers put their products through, to test endurance and stability.
Yet, he and most folks in such Nigerian neighbourhoods can only afford cars meant for paved roads.
As we commenced our journey, I winced in pain, not for myself suffering the slamming and dunking of being thrown up and down within the vehicle, but for the saloon car he was driving, which was constantly taking a battering on its underside from the unforgiving terrain.
Eventually, at about 515 am, we found ourselves on the main road. Traffic was already built up. The second hurdle of a regular day began for him, with the hope that it would be one of those lucky days when traffic would be forgiving enough for him to get to his office by 8 am. A journey that should be less than an hour has routinely turned into a minimum of 3 hours.
The same infrastructure meant 40 years ago for a population of less than 3 million, now caters for over 25 million people. The money that ought to have gone into new infrastructure to cope with the increase in population has found its way into pockets of individuals – looted and embezzled.
Five days a week, apart from the stress of his work, he endures the harshness of commuting for 3.5 hours in the morning and between 4 to 6 hours in the evening.
The day he is lucky enough, he gets back home at 930 pm. When he is unlucky, it could be 11 pm or 1 am. That is when he would have dinner, catch a few hours of sleep, to wake up again at 330am, set for another iteration of what late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti called “suffering and smiling”.
Families of many contemporaries of his, have one day received the news that their breadwinner slumped: was rushed into a hospital where for many days, in ignorance and incompetency, leprosy was left to treat eczema; and sadly passed away before attaining the young age of 40.
This is the tragedy of living and working in Nigeria for most of those who call Lagos and its’ environ their home.
This is Nigeria, where self-centred, looting, and cursed leaders have made death at a young age, ten-a-kobo for the citizens they are meant to cater for.
In 2008, I took some time from employment to finish writing up my doctoral thesis. During this period, I was a frequent visitor to a cousin’s office in London. One of those days, there was an ongoing discussion between the company’s staff, who were all Nigerians, about applying for land allocation in the Federal Capital Territory.
I was asked if I had an interest. I inquired about the process, and the explanation was like this:
- We fill an application form,
- Pay some processing fee that came to about £250 per plot,
- The FCT administration would process the application,
- If the application is approved, a letter of allocation/allotment will be issued, and
- Full payment for the plot would be made.
I responded that I was interested. My brother and I completed the forms, and I gave my cousin’s partner, who was facilitating the process, the sum of £500 as a processing fee for the two plots.
About two months later, I was in my cousin’s office when his partner informed me our allocation letters had been sent to him. He gave me the letters for our two plots and demanded that we make available full payment for the plots within a week.
My official engagement before the period included instructing barristers to act on behalf of my employer. This entailed scrutinising regulations, legal documents as well as providing advisory opinions.
When I was handed the allocation letters, my cap as a certified paralegal went on.
At the first read, I could not find anything untoward in the content of the letters. However, with a second review, I noticed that the date on the allocation letter was many years before 2008.
When I asked about the anomaly, I was told that is the way the system works, and I should not worry about the date since the letter had our names on it.
I was uncomfortable. I went home and slept over the issue. By the time I woke up in the morning, I was convinced my parents would count their years of sending me to school wasted if I agree to continue the process of land allocation with a letter dated 199* issued to me in 2008.
So, I called my cousin’s partner, told him my brother and I were no longer interested in the FCT land application.
The guy was furious. I was the only one, out of many applicants he was facilitating the process for, who raised an eyebrow regarding the date on the letter. He called me all sort of names, including too educated to know how things work in Nigeria. He told me I would not get my £500 processing fee back.
I have put this story in the public domain to show that the rots in Nigerian society go deeper than anyone can imagine.
You apply for your Nigerian passport but end up paying up to N30,000 to uniformed immigration officials in their office before issuance. You go to the FRSC for licence renewal and end up paying N25,000 for something that officially is N9,000. You import a used car into the country and pay N2.5m as a clearing fee to customs, but the official documents you get issued show a total sum of N1.3m going to the government’s coffers.
When you gloat over Kemi Adeosun’s resignation, remember any of us can be caught inadvertently in the web of corruption that pervades the Nigerian society from the bottom to the top.